Rules of a Rebel and a Shy Girl, Page 17Jessica Sorensen
“I’ve been trying to.” I lean forward and lower my head into my hand. “I’ve offered to let her move in with me over and over again, but she’s so stubborn. So, if you have any ideas at all, please share. I’d really like to get her out of that shithole she’s living in now. That place is sketchy as fuck.”
“Just do what you always do,” she replies in a sugary sweet tone. “Bat your baby blue eyes to get your way.”
“I so do not fucking do that.”
“You do that all the damn time, and I think you know you do.”
“Whatever.” I raise my head from my hand and sit up straight. “I’m going to hang up so I can call Willow.”
“Let me know how it goes. I worry about her.”
“So do I.” More than anything.
After I hang up, I dial Willow’s number. The call goes straight to voicemail, and seconds later, I receive a text.
Willow: Hey, I’m at work, so I can’t talk. I don’t get off until late so can I call you tomorrow?
Me: Actually, can we hang out tomorrow? I really need to talk to you.
Willow: Sure. Is everything all right? You sounded a little irked on the phone.
I shake my head. Leave it to her to worry about me when she’s buried up to her chin in stress.
Me: I’m fine. I swear. I just really want to see you.
Then, as an afterthought, I add: I miss you.
She doesn’t reply right away, and I start to worry I spooked her. Then my phone buzzes with an incoming text.
Willow: I miss you, too. I have class tomorrow. I get out at two if you want to stop by. I have work later. Maybe we can grab something to eat or something.
The restlessness in my chest relaxes since she’s being cooperative. Then again, she doesn’t know what I want to talk about.
Me: Sounds good. If you want to call me when you get off work, too, you can. In fact, I wish you would.
Willow: If it’s not too late.
I sigh, knowing she won’t yet grateful she’s at least hanging with me tomorrow.
Me: You can always call me. Whenever. Wherever. Any time you want.
I end the messages at that then try to shove my worries of Willow aside for the moment and plug my phone into the computer. Then I copy the files in my father’s personal business folder, files that I’m pretty sure prove he’s committed tax fraud. I’m not positive yet, but I know a very smart girl who might be able to help me understand them better. And while I don’t know what I’ll do if I find out the information is true, it doesn’t hurt to have some blackmail material handy in case he refuses to quit blackmailing me into working for him.
Once I get all the files downloaded, I put my phone away and reach for a piece of paper to work on solving a problem that desperately needs solving: convincing Willow to move in with me.
While I don’t think getting her to agree is going to be easy, I might have an idea to help her see why living with me is better than living with her mom. A way to help her understand. A way she understands.
I press the pen to the paper and start writing a list.
Work sucks big time. Van keeps reminding me that I’ll soon be up on stage, even going as far as discussing what outfit I should wear. By the time I leave, I’m exhausted and worried and scared and feel so dirty. My fear only doubles when I notice the Mustang in the parking lot. Thank God I’m not alone and have Rowan, one of the dancers, walking with me to the car.
“When you start up onstage, you’ll really want to be careful coming out here,” she tells me as she puffs on a cigarette. She’s wearing a leather jacket over a sequined pair of shorts and a bikini top, the outfit she wears on stage. “A lot of guys will try to buy time with you, but they need to go through Van to do that.”
I nearly stop dead in my tracks. “That goes on here?”
Smoke snakes from her lips as she gives me a duh look. “Um, yeah. What did you think the back room was for?”
“I don’t know.” I zip up my jacket. “I thought maybe it was storage.”
She laughs, ashing her cigarette. “Van’s right. You’re definitely going to rock on stage with that whole innocent act.”
I offer her a tight smile, not bothering to mention that I’m going to quit before that happens. I only wish I had a damn job lined up already. “Well, thanks for walking me to my car.”
“Yeah, no problem.” She puts her cigarette between her lips before turning and walking off.
I dare a glance at the inside of the Mustang as I slip my key into the door. Dane isn’t inside, thankfully, but my nerves don’t lessen as I open the door and climb in.
The second my butt hits the seat, I shut the door and push down the lock. Then I slide the key into the ignition and …
Glug. Glug. Glug …The damn engine won’t turn over.
I pound my palm against the steering wheel then slip my hand into my jacket pocket to get my phone, unsure who to call since no one knows I work here. Well, except for my mom, but she wouldn’t be any help even if I could get a hold of her.
The sound of Dane’s voice sends a surge of fear through my veins.
Swallowing hard, I fix my attention on my phone. “I’m fine.” I open my text messages and scroll through my contacts, pretending to be calm when I’m one window knock away from peeing my pants. My heart only pounds harder when Dane tries to open the door.
“Come on; let me in,” he says, jiggling the door handle. “I’ll get your car to start for you. And I won’t even charge you cash.”
“Go away.” I honk the horn, and he jolts.
He then quickly recovers, pressing his forehead to my window. “Honk all you want, sweetheart. No one can hear you out here. And if they did, they wouldn’t care.”
He’s right. Well, mostly right except for Everette. He cared.
But he’s not here, is he?
And the only other guy in your life who’s ever protective of you is about thirty miles away and doesn’t know about your dirty little work secret.
No, you’re going to have to handle this on your own.
I reach for my pepper spray, and start to roll down my window, ready to spray him in the face. But when a Mercedes rolls up beside my car, I freeze. Terror whiplashes through me as a man in his forties wearing a button down shirt and jeans hops out and strides toward the front of my car.
Good God, I’m going to die tonight, either by the hand of Dane or this man who’s clearly stalking me for reasons that probably have to do with my mom.
You’re not going to die. Just fix the problem. Call Beck because it’s either that or let Dane or rich dude end you.
My fingers tremble as I start to push Beck’s number, ready to accept the consequences of my actions and pray I don’t lose him. But I pause as the older guy storms toward Dane, slams his palms against his chest, and shoves him to the ground.
“What the fuck!” Dane shouts, scurrying to his feet.
The man puts his boot on Dane’s chest, pinning him to the ground. “If you so much as come near her again, I will fucking end you. Got it?”
My jaw nearly smacks my knees. Who the freak is this badass old guy?
“Fuck you, old man,” Dane spits, struggling to get up. “This isn’t any of your business.” His face bunches in pain as the man leans more of his weight on Dane’s chest.
“I don’t think you’re really in a position to decide that, are you?” the man asks, rolling up his sleeves and revealing his muscular, tattooed arms. “Now, I’m going to move my foot. You have exactly five seconds to get up, get in your car, drive away, and never, ever come back here.” With that, he steps back, removing his foot from Dane’s chest.
Dane launches to his feet, balling his hands into fists. “You’re going to regret ever doing that.”
“One,” the man starts counting, sounding kind of bored.
Dane spits on the ground, as if that somehow proves he’s t
“Two,” the man continues, and Dane’s eyes briefly widen. “Three.”
Dane spins around and barrels for his car. The man keeps counting as Dane starts up the engine. He reaches five as the Mustang flies out of the parking lot, leaving a cloud of dust behind. Once the taillights have vanished down the road, the man turns to me.
“Are you okay?” he asks cautiously.
“Um … Yeah …” I don’t know what to say. Why did he do what he did? If he expects some sort of payment …
He must read my hesitancy because he says, “I just wanted to help. That’s all.”
“Okay … Thanks.” I stare at his eyes, which look strikingly familiar under the glow of the lamppost. “Do I know you?”
Instead of answering, he walks toward the front of the car. “Pop the hood, and I’ll see if I can figure out why it won’t start.”
The fact that he knows about my car trouble puts me right back on edge.
“I can’t pay you,” I say, “with money or anything else.”
His eyes enlarge, and then he promptly shakes his head. “I don’t want anything at all.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
“To help you.”
I don’t know whether I should trust him, but the doors are locked and the pepper spray is in my hand if I need it.
“Fine.” I pull the lever that pops the hood.
He flips the latch underneath and raises the hood, disappearing out of my sight.
I hold my breath as he works, my finger hovering over Beck’s contact number, preparing to dial if I need to. Several minutes tick by before the man peers around the hood.
“Turn the key and see if it starts,” he says.
I turn over the key and breathe freely again as the engine grumbles to life.
The man pushes down the hood and walks over to the driver’s side window with his now greasy arms crossed. “I think you might really need to consider getting a new car. I temporarily fixed it, but the engine’s about to fall apart.”
“Thanks for the advice,” I say, moving my foot toward the gas pedal, eager to get the heck out of here. “And thanks for temporarily fixing my car.”
“Anytime.” He lowers his head to level his gaze with mine, and again, I’m struck with an odd sense of familiarity. “I’d really like to help you get one.”
So much for his nice-guy act.
“I already told you I’m not that kind of girl.”
“What kind of girl do you think I think you are?” he asks, a crease forming between his brows.
“The kind of girl who …” My cheeks heat, and the words won’t leave my mouth. I gesture at the club. “The kind of girl who can be bought.”
Shock floods his eyes as he jerks back. “That’s not what this is about.”
“There must be something you want,” I snap. “Or else you wouldn’t have just offered to help me buy a car.”
He inches closer, shoving his hands into his pockets. “There actually is something I want.”
I shake my head, questioning why I’m even still here. “Of course there is.”
“Your time,” he stresses. “That’s it.”
My hand on the steering wheel begins to tremble as anger burns under my skin. “And I can only guess what we’d do together while we’re spending time together.”
“Will you stop saying that kind of shit? That’s not what this is about.” He looks appalled. No, more than that. He looks utterly sickened, like he’s about to puke all over the gravel.
I don’t know how it clicks or why. All I know is that one moment, I’m looking at some stranger who saved my ass from Dane, and the next, I’m looking at my father. Only, he’s fifteen years older than the one I remember.
“Willow, please just hear me out,” he says, probably seeing the recognition on my face.
I shake my head, shoving the shifter into drive. “Stay away from me!” I shout before peeling out of the parking lot.
I drive like a mad woman back to the apartment, checking the rearview mirror every so often to make sure he doesn’t follow me. He doesn’t, and I don’t know what that means. Will he try to talk to me again, or will he walk away? I don’t know what answer scares me the most. By the time I pull up in front of the apartment, my skin is damp from an approaching panic attack.
Parking the car, I get out and stumble into the house. I head straight for my mom’s room and begin digging through boxes and drawers, looking for something—anything—that will prove that man isn’t my father. That he didn’t just try to come back into my life after leaving me with a mother who couldn’t take care of herself, let alone a child.
When I was younger, I spent nights pondering the idea that perhaps he died and that’s why he never came back. It hurt to think he was dead, but it hurt just as much to think that maybe he just didn’t want me anymore.
After nearly tearing the room apart, I find what I’m looking for tucked underneath the mattress. My mom said she threw everything of my dad’s away, but I knew she was lying. And I was right.
I gather the few photos in my hand and then sink to the floor as I study the man standing beside my mom and me. The tattooed arms. The familiar eyes. The man from the parking lot.
My chest throbs with an old, aching wound. But I refuse to cry anymore over my father, so I bottle up the sadness and the excruciating ache and lock it away with the rest of the problems I’m not ready to deal with.
I know I’m only biding time. Sooner or later, all of this is going to catch up with me.
My mom doesn’t come home that night, and part of me is glad. I don’t want to see her or my dad yet. I’m honestly not sure I want to see any of them again, even if I do feel guilty and sick for thinking such awful things.
I consider cutting Chemistry class the next day to avoid another problem I’m not ready to deal with, but I’ve never been one for cutting class, so I drive to school, worried my current employment will be the topic of juicy gossip. Apparently, Everette isn’t much of a gossiper, though, something I discover after class when I run into him in the hallway.
“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry,” I sputter an apology, stumbling back from him, feeling like an idiot for slamming into him while staring at my phone. I was distracted, checking my email to see if any of the jobs I applied for responded back.
A couple of places offered me a position, but they don’t pay very much. Still, I might be able to get away with accepting two if I have to.
Everette offers me an understanding smile. “It’s okay. I’m not very good at texting while walking, either.”
“Still, I should know better after crashing into people multiple times.” I smile back, nervousness bubbling in my stomach that he knows my secret.
“I’m sure everyone does it.” He glances around the hallway then leans in, clutching the book he’s holding. “I’m actually glad I ran into you. I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I mutter quietly, anxiety pumping through my veins.
“I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable, and I promise I won’t ever bring it up again,” he says in a hushed tone. “But you ran off so quickly … It had me nervous that maybe that guy hurt you or something.”
“That’s not why I ran off.” I adjust the strap of my bag higher on my shoulder and peer around the mostly vacant hallway. “I was just surprised to see someone I knew there.”
He nods in understanding. “I won’t say anything to anyone. We all have stuff we don’t want other people to know, right?”
I nod, surprised by his sincerity. “Thanks. I really appreciate that.”
Smiling, he opens his mouth to say something, but Beck strolls up.
“Hey.” He stops beside me, standing so close our shoulders touch. His gaze bounces between Everette and me before finally landing on Everette. “What’s up, man?”
“Not much.” Everette stuffs the
paperback into the back pocket of his faded jeans. “You playing soccer again this weekend?”
“I was thinking about it, but I need to check on a few things first.” Beck grows quiet, rubbing the back of his neck.
Everette raises his brow like okay? “I guess I might see you there, then.” He looks at me. “See you in class next week?”
I nod, and then he heads down the hallway, digging his phone out of his pocket.
I nervously turn to Beck. I haven’t seen him since I gave him the list. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to feel being near him again, if I’d lose it. But his nearness seems to calm some of the clusterfuck of shittiness currently crammed in my chest.
I discreetly eye him over, chewing on my lip. He’s wearing a long-sleeved grey shirt, jeans, and a beanie with a few strands of hair sticking out from underneath. My eyes travel to his lips, and I find myself touching my own, remembering our kisses, how soft his lips are, how wonderful it felt to bite them, how life felt perfect for a moment. Completely and utterly and wonderfully, smile all the time, flutters in my heart, tingles on my skin perfect. But that was only a delusion, something I was reminded of yesterday.
I quickly try to force the mental images of the kiss away, and my senses go haywire from the scent of his delicious cologne, his overpowering warmth, and my desire to touch him again.
I stab my fingernails into my palms. Don’t you dare. You already have too much to worry about.
Beck shifts his gaze to me, question marks and uncertainty flooding his eyes. I wonder if he’ll bring up the list or if we’re going to just act like nothing happened, like we did after the last kiss.
“You know him?” Beck asks, nodding in the direction Everette wandered off in.
“Um, yeah. He’s in my Chemistry class.” So not what I was expecting him to say. “He seems nice.”
He nods, studying me intently. “He is.”
The strange, hurt look on his face has me feeling lost. “How do you know him? From soccer?”